Blues powerhouse Janiva Magness coming to the West Coast
Janiva Magness — indisputably one of the premier blues and R&B singers in the world today and recently nominated for five top Blues Music Association awards — is a living, breathing, one-woman masterclass in blues performance and, not coincidentally, overcoming staggering odds and finding ways to help others.
Magness has a voice that is by turns rawly honest, heart-achingly nuanced, unabashedly sultry, richly mature, caressingly gentle, and indignantly outraged. While performing, Magness throws her entire being into the show, bringing each song into full living, breathing life; Magness doesn’t merely sing the songs, she lives each song as she gives them voice.
Magness’ vocal chops are augmented by her natural, bold, unself-conscious, and downright masterful stage presence. Some singers get anchored in place by their mic stand, others spend instrumental breaks look like they’re standing awkwardly alone at a cocktail party and can’t quite figure out what to do or where to look — but not Magness, who strides fearlessly across the stage, bends at the waist to fairly literally sing from the gut, rests her fingertips on the corner bandmate Jim Alfredson’s Hammond B3 keyboard in classic blueswoman fashion, opens her mouth and eyes wide to let the big sounds out and closes her eyes when crooning softly, savors the instrumental solos, and is never less than 100 percent engaged in what she is doing. The result is an electrifying and dynamic show of the highest caliber.
No wanna-be blueswoman, Magness has the kind of life experiences to draw from that bring authority and authenticity to her music. A childhood spent in the foster care system of Detroit brought more than its share of heartbreak, and Magness credits music and a few advocates within the system for her beating the sad statistical odds that faced her as a Foster Child At Risk. Magness’ experiences forged a strength that she now channels into her music — and into her advocacy work for Foster Care. Not one to use the past to ask for pity for herself, Magness instead has used her success with music to bring attention to the foster care system; she takes her positions as Ambassador for Foster Care Alumni and Spokesperson for National Foster Care Month seriously. Go to Magness’ website, and amongst the usual tabs — Music, News, Store, Tour — is one that stands out: Foster Care.
Magness’ most recent album — 2012’s “Stronger For It” (Alligator Records) — is an arresting case in point of how Magness’ life and music are intertwined. Born out of a year that saw eight deaths of beloved friends and relatives and divorce, “Stronger For It” fully acknowledges the darkness in life; however, through Magness’ nuanced and powerful vocals and excellent band, the album avoids sounding morose or self-pitying.
A first for Magness, “Stronger For It” includes three songs she wrote, a step she says was “terribly frightening and completely exhilarating” but after what she understatedly refers to as “a pretty bumpy year,” now seemed like the right time to take the plunge and give literal voice to her own words. With “Stronger For It” leaping to the top of the Blues and Roots and Living Blues radio charts, appearing on a host of best-of lists for 2012, and garnering a fistful of Blues Music Awards nominations, audiences and critics clearly agree with her choice.
Prestigious awards have been showered on Magness over the last several years, a trend that continues unabated with Magness recently receiving five plum 2013 Blues Music Awards nominations from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation: B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year (“Stronger For It”), Song of the Year (“I Won’t Cry,” written by Magness and Dave Darling), Contemporary Blues Album of the Year (“Stronger For It”), and Contemporary Female Blues Artist of the Year. In 2012, Magness was nominated for Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year. In 2011, Magness received four nominations BMA nominations: BB King Entertainer Of The Year, Album Of The Year (“The Devil Is An Angel Too”), Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year, and Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year. In 2009, Magness won the coveted BB King Entertainer Of The Year award (only the second woman to win it, Koko Taylor being the first); Magness was crowned Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year in 2006, 2007, and 2009.
Magness fronts a five-piece band that showcases Magness’ vocals and adds a rich and varied texture to the music. In addition to Magness on lead vocals (and, occasionally, cigar box guitar), the band is Jim Alfredson on cool Hammond B3 organ and rousing keyboard, Zach Zunis on guitar, Gary Davenport on bass, and Matt Tecu on drums; several bandmates contribute harmony vocals.
Being in the audience of a Janiva Magness show is to be enveloped in the power of the music and the moment; with Magness’ immediacy as a performer and spot-on musical mastery, audience members loose the feeling be being mere spectators and fall into the experience. That only happens with a world-class performer such as Magness; that heady experience is reason to dive into being at a live show.
Janiva Magness will appear at The Palms, 13 Main Street in Winters, California, on Friday, Feb. 8 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland, and at the door if not sold out.
For more information, call (530) 795-1825 or visit palmsplayhouse.com or janivamagness.com.
~ Fri. Feb. 8—The Palms Playhouse; Winters, CA
~ Sat. Feb. 9—Biscuits & Blues; San Francisco, CA
~ Tues. Feb. 12 & Wed. Feb. 13—Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley; Seattle, WA
~ Fri. Feb. 15—The Upstage; Port Townsend, WA
~ Sat. Feb. 16—Winter Blues Festival; Portland, OR